Friday of Week 12 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 8:1-4

The two chapters (8 and 9) following the Sermon on the Mount include a long list of miracles (ten altogether) performed by Jesus. They are seen as a confirmation of his authority to teach because they are so obviously the work of God himself. The man who can do these things also has the right to be heard and followed.

The first story is the cure of a leper. It is told with the usual brevity and lack of detail characteristic of Matthew (compare Mark’s version, 1:40-45). A leper begs to be healed. His faith and trust in Jesus is revealed by his saying:

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.

Jesus replies:

I am willing.

And he cures him instantly. We may note the simplicity of Jesus’ act. In this, the healing miracles of Jesus contrast with the fantastic stories from the Hellenistic world and those sometimes attributed to Jewish rabbis.

But Jesus’ miracles also differ because of the spiritual and symbolic meaning attached to them. They often have the quality of a parable, and frequently the words that accompany the miracle are of greater significance. Such is true in this case, where the healing of the leper has wider ramifications as indicated below.

While compassion is many times the motive behind a miracle, most often they are seen as strengthening a person’s faith. Jesus, too, is very selective in the miracles he performs and often demands secrecy from the beneficiary. Jesus does not want to be the centre of any sensational wonder-working. It will be the miracle of his resurrection that will be the really determining factor of Who he is.

Soon, we will see Jesus sending out his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom and giving them his own powers of healing. Their mandate will be to do the same work that Jesus has been doing. The 10 miracles recounted in chapters 8 and 9 will be the kind of thing that the missionary successors of Jesus will also do.

After the healing, Jesus then instructs the man, in accordance with the requirements of the law, to go to the Temple to get a certificate from the priests as proof of his return to health. Only with this official documentation will he be allowed to re-enter society.

The leper was a particularly unfortunate person in ancient society. It was known that through contact with a leprous person one could contract the disease, so they were kept isolated from the rest of society. There was, of course, no known cure and the person’s body just gradually rotted away.

What was probably more tragic was the fact that many people with other kinds of similar-looking skin diseases, which were not at all infectious, could be branded as lepers and condemned to the same policy of isolation. The healing of the leper by Jesus was then much more than a physical healing. It meant that the man could be fully re-integrated into normal society.

In our time, the leper can be a symbol for all those who are marginalised by our societies for one reason or another – foreigners, people of a different colour or culture, or gender, or religion, those with addictions – drugs or alcohol, victims of sexually transmitted diseases…

We Christians have a special responsibility to be agents of healing to re-integrate such people and accept them fully as brothers and sisters.

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